AI is NOT part of transhumanism…

Friday, 13 June, 2008

..well, at least not proper transhumanism as alluded to by Huxley and refined thereafter (AI may be transhumanistic under that perverted transhumanism espoused by Max More).

Transhumanism is about extending human capacities. However, artificial intelligence research is about making beings with capacities approaching, and eventually surpassing, what we know consider human capacities. They are parallel routes to superintelligences and even to a technological singularity, but they are not the same thing. How can AI be ‘more than human’ if it is something different entirely? Is an apple ‘more than an orange’? One may taste better, and one may be juicer, but an apple is not an ‘enhanced orange’ nor is an orange an ‘trans-apple’.

An AI with human-like capacities would not be human, because it is not an organism with the designation Homo sapiens (it may, however, qualify as a person worthy of the same rights we give to adult humans). A robot with some capacities greater than those possessed by humans would not be a transhuman, because it never was human nor descended from humans, so is not an extension of anything human (except in the abstract sense, under which my scientific calculator is an extension of myself). An upload of a human mind would be transhuman (as would a human using a brain-computer interface), however, because he or she would still have been a human, but extended into an artificial substrate.

The same thing goes for posthumanism. A posthuman is a human extended to such a degree, with so many capacities vastly beyond human limits, that the ‘human’ designation isn’t doing it justice. And an AI superintelligence would not be a posthuman, because it would not be a radical extension of humanity (at best it is a post-computer, because it is such a radical extension of my desktop PC).

To be fair, the same arguments that are used for transhumanism also make good ones for extending the capacities of any other sentient being, whether they are humanoid robots or non-human animals like dolphins and whales. But that wouldn’t be transhumanism, it would be ‘transandroidism’ or ‘transcetaceanism’. Or perhaps more generally ‘transsentience’ or something.

Julian Huxley, when he first used the term, described transhumanism as “man remaining man, but trans¬≠cending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.” Transhumanism is exclusively about making better humans. Unless humans can merge with computers, artificial intelligence don’t enter into it.


  1. The “enhanced orange” and the “trans-apple” made me laugh.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Trans-apple…love it. Very nice post!


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